Cash For The Past: California Makes Dicey Movement On Reparations Bills

By Victor Smiroff | Thursday, 23 May 2024 12:00 PM
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Image Credit : Photo by NBC News

In a historic move, the California Senate approved three bills on Tuesday aimed at addressing the state's history of slavery and discrimination against African Americans.

These measures, which now move to the state Assembly for consideration, include the establishment of the California Freedmen Affairs Agency, a reparations fund, and compensation for Black families from whom property was unjustly seized by the government through eminent domain.

The trio of bills forms part of a larger legislative package of over a dozen proposals introduced by the California Legislative Black Caucus. This follows the recommendations of California's Reparations Task Force, which spent two years studying how the state could make amends for its legacy of racism and discrimination against Black Americans.

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State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat who authored the bills and served on the task force, stated that California "bears great responsibility" for the "grave injustices" inflicted upon Black Californians. He sees the creation of the new agency as the first step in rectifying these wrongs.

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"If you can inherit generational wealth, you can inherit generational debt," Bradford argued. "Reparations is a debt that's owed to descendants of slavery. These are not a handout or charity by any measure. It is what was promised, it's what is owed and what is 160 years overdue."

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While other states like New York and Illinois have established commissions to consider reparations, none have progressed as far as California. The city of Evanston, Illinois, however, made history in 2021 by becoming the first city to provide reparations to some Black residents as a form of redress for past discriminatory housing policies.

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At the national level, a proposal to create a commission to study reparations has been stalled in Congress for over three decades.

However, not all California lawmakers are in favor of reparations. Some critics argue that the state is promising more than it can deliver due to its multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Republican Assembly member Bill Essayli, for instance, believes that the state is prematurely setting up agencies and frameworks to dispense reparations without actually passing any reparations.

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The approval of these bills comes in the wake of the Senate Appropriations Committee blocking bills that would have provided property tax and financial assistance to descendants of enslaved people. According to Bradford, this was largely due to the state's budget issues.

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Despite these setbacks, the California Assembly voted on Thursday to advance a bill that would issue an official apology for the state's role in slavery and discrimination against Black Californians.

The Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, an advocacy group for reparations, expressed optimism ahead of Tuesday's votes. The group stated on social media that the three bills "lay the groundwork for full Reparations, including the return by the state of California of stolen wealth and income, as well as the provision of new opportunities to build, thrive and prosper as a community of residents who descend from those brave American souls who overcame enslavement in the U.S."

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The group added, "We're closer to Reparations than we've ever been. And because of the hard work and commitment of countless individuals, families and organizations from all walks of life, we get closer every day."

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